Whenever there is an opening in the United States Supreme Court, the President of the United States selects a person to be appointed to that spot. Typically, that Supreme Court Justice will have somewhat similar political ideologies as the president, especially when it comes to hot-button topics like abortion and gun control. Justices that have been appointed by the Republican Party have had a stranglehood on the majority for decades.
During the days of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democrats had a slight majority at 5-4, but that would change in 1970 when Richard Nixon was able to pack the Supreme Court. During his presidency, Nixon was able to appoint four Justices, while following President Gerald R. Ford was able to select one.
Jimmy Carter then became the next President of the United States, but during his one term, there was not an open position on the Supreme Court, and therefore didn’t appoint a Justice. That wasn’t the case for Ronald Reagan, though, as he had a big impact on the Supreme Court during his two terms.
Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy. George H.W. Bush then served just one term, but he was able to appoint both David Souter and Clarence Thomas during that time. Bill Clinton served two terms, but had just as many Supreme Court appointees in the form of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
In the 21st century, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama appointed two Justices, while Donald Trump got three spots in just one term. In 2022, Joe Biden made Ketanji Brown Jackson the 116th Supreme Court Justice in history, so it goes to show that it’s all about timing when it comes to appointees.
At one point in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Republicans held a 8-1 edge in the Supreme Court, though it would dwindle during the days of Barack Obama when it dropped down to a 5-4 majority. Following Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Obama attempted to fill the seat, but Republicans blocked him until a new President was appointed, allowing Donald Trump to keep a Republican majority in the Supreme Court.
The Republicans now hold a 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court with Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett all being appointed as Justices between 2017 and 2020. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020 an retirement of Stephen Breyer in 2022 made things difficult for the Democrats, but Breyer held off retirement until Biden was firmly into his first White House term so a new appointee could be made.
So how long will the Republicans have a majority in the Supreme Court? A 6-3 edge seems pretty sustainable, especially since the Republicans have held the majority for more than half of a century now. It really comes down to a couple of key players in the coming years to decide just how long that stretch will last.
Clarence Thomas surpassed 30 years of service as a Justice in 2021, with many wondering just how much longer he has. If he were to leave his seat before Joe Biden leaves, that would allow the Democrats to bring the count to 5-4 in favor of the GOP. Then, there’s Biden himself, who would give the Democrats a massive advantage if he were to secure a second term, or at least help the Democrats retain the White House.
The three longest-serving Supreme Court Justices were all appointed by Republican Presidents, as John Roberts and Samuel Alito are holdovers from the George W. Bush era. The Trump appointees and Ketanji Brown Jackson figure to be mainstays of the Supreme Court for years, so the eyes are on the older appointees.
Outside of Thomas, the oldest Justice is Samuel Alito, who was born in 1950. If the Democrats are able to stay in the White House through the 2028 election, it would be difficult for both him and Thomas to stay in the Supreme Court through that entire time. With that in mind, the 2024 Presidential election would be one of the biggest in Supreme Court history.
If the Democrats were to retain, that would likely signal the first Democrat majority in the Supreme Court since the late 1960s. If the Republicans win, those two would be able to retire comfortably, and the Republican majority would likely last for the foreseeable future.